Don’t lunge at me – yet.
I don’t want to foist my insecurities on an entire gender. I’m not implying that all women are the same. And I don’t mean that we’re not, objectively speaking, successful. Far from it.
Despite our achievements. Despite the affirmations and the reassurances and the checked-off lists – can we accept it ourselves?
Do you ever look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m a success?’
Do you ever compare yourself favourably with others?
At the end of the day – with the undone ironing or the outstanding accounts or the unopened Bible or the mouche that (still) needs waxing – do you ever think ‘hey: but look what I have done’. Or. Even better – who cares! Who cares what I’ve done?
This may be just me. And I know guys are insecure too. But with women it can feel endemic. And there’s more: sometimes the ways we try to address it only make it worse. I’m talking about Doing. Relentless, Uncontrollable Doing.
Tyranny of the List:
Example: I wake up. Take my emotional temperature. Guess what? It’s 7am and I feel a bit wobbly. That’s a shocker. Must be something I’ve done. I check the phone: no urgent missed calls. Check for hubby: haven’t murdered him in my sleep. I poddle downstairs and the kitchen’s still there. Phew – haven’t left the grill on. So I eat my Weetabix and drink my tea. Time to go back to me (can you spot a pattern?). Yep, I still feel like a failure. I reach the same conclusion: If it’s not something I’ve done, it’s clearly something I need to do.
And so the checklist begins. Shopping. Cleaning. Sending off emails. Taking out the rubbish. Every time I tick something off I add another two. But that’s ok: If I do all this stuff, I’ll have something to show. I’ll feel so much better. Like I’ve achieved something. Like a success.
The day ends and I still feel rubbish. (There may be a link between this and running around like a headless chicken, but we’ll let that one go). What’s the problem now? The list? Of course not. The success list is crucial – what’s wrong is its content. Who cares if I feed the cats? What would be really impressive is if I ran a marathon. Raised a family. Wrote a best-selling book. Bought some sexy new shoes. Successville, guaranteed.
Let’s consider someone who’s achieved this. Sue Townsend, the author of the Adrian Mole books. Now there my friends, is a success. With a best-selling novel, Townsend completed the ultimate To-Do List. She achieved her own ambitions and those of millions of others. But did it make her happy? Did it, heck.
It triggered a deep and lasting depression instead.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Townsend writes of the gap between how others see her and how she see herself. Of
‘a disconnect between me as the writer of Adrian Mole and me as the person I was. .. people were disappointed when they met me. They wanted someone like Barbara Taylor Bradford in furs. I just felt boring to myself’.
‘I remember walking down Old Compton Street after being told how much Adrian Mole had made and thinking, ‘What can I buy? What can I get? What can I do?…
..After buying our house – a former vicarage – in Leicester, I could not think of a single thing I wanted. Flowers, more flowers, perfume; but I already had all the perfume I intended to use all my life…I had been buying that anyway. I added hardback books and my list came to an end. Money doesn’t make you happy’.
Money doesn’t make you happy. That’s obvious. At least, in my head. But achievements? Surely that works.
As Townsend comments in today’s Daily Telegraph: ‘I can register (the success) in my brain, but I don’t feel it’.
Maybe it’s just me and her. We’ve got a huge filing cabinet for criticisms and we check them regularly, – but there’s no container for praise. If by chance one makes it through, they’re drowned out by voices. ‘Fraud’ they say, ‘fraud’.
It looks like low self-esteem, but it’s the opposite too. Tell me I’m special, tell me I’m worthwhile. Why? Because I know my own heart and I know my desires – they’re ugly and they’re hungry and I want other people to tell me that’s not so. But their words make no impact. I turn back to myself and a system that gives me the affirmation that I feel. That crosses off the whole hellish list. That takes success – and failure – out of the equation. Acceptance. Rest. That’s what I want. That’s what I need. And here’s what I’m learning – I can’t get it from a list.